Monday, December 10, 2012

Adventures With The Williams Five!

The clock is ticking here in Uganda! There is less than a month before our current African Adventure takes us back to Canada.  A lot has happened since our last newsletter and if feels like there is simply just not enough time to get our Uganda bucket list completed.  Two highlights of the month were home visits in Aura, northern Uganda along the Congo boarder and our farewell at the school. 

We decided to take the whole family along with two teachers from the school up to Aura for some home visits.  The eight hour journey was not an easy task with three little ones.  Megan was a challenge but after a 7 AM departure we arrived safely at our destination.  I also realized that one of the battery holders on our well-worn Prado was shot and needed to be fixed. I set off to Aura town for some help and was shocked to find out that this very ‘small’ town was teeming with over two million people.  As nightfall began to approach a new battery holder was welded and installed.  Connections were checked but there was not a new battery terminal anywhere to be found to connect to the post.  After several starts it had appeared that everything was okay.  I enjoyed my conversation with the mechanics in their open air shop at the back of their house that was no more than 400 square feet.  They were also working on a minivan taxi from Congo which allowed me to get a greater understanding of that enormous country and problems that they are facing.  During this operation it also became very clear that being a mechanic in Uganda means being a welder and machinist. I watched a man building a car part out of a hunk of steal like a blacksmith.
After I paid a whopping 15 dollars for all the work I was guaranteed that I would have no more problems for a year although there was surely no money back guarantee. The kids needed a bedtime snack of yogurt and I needed to pick up toothbrushes and toothpaste since I forgot my overnight bag so I swung into the biggest supermarket in town.  It was about the size of an average living room in Canada.  I grabbed a few things but being a flosser was disappointed to find none.  Needless to say I was happy to be heading back to the guest house having the car fixed and a few basics in tow.  I jumped in the car and turned the ignition key to hear only a clicking sound.  I had earlier become aware of the very few cars on the streets. Everyone traveled almost strictly on foot, motorcycle, or bicycle. As I sat there I realized that I was in a very different world… not only different from Canada but different from the central part of Uganda that I call home.  I began to feel a little uncomfortable and needy. But I knew I had to get the vehicle at least back to the guest house.  After popping the hood I spent several minutes playing with the connections to both batteries and finally the engine fired up and I was feeling much better. 
Once back at the guesthouse I had a late supper and our contact person promised a reliable mechanic to tune up the car for the home visits we had planned for the next day.  The next morning the vehicle was fixed and thankfully we are off on our home visits to see eleven of our students.  Seth and Jodie joined me, the local pastor and two teachers from our school.  I totally enjoyed the country side but found myself with a heavy heart as we moved from hut to hut.  Most of the homes consisted of a few huts with very few possessions or even necessities.  But all of them welcomed us with extreme warmth and hospitality.  All of the homes had one or both of the biological parents absent due to death and often if there was a remaining parent they were HIV positive.  We offered a small food hamper and encouraged our students and remaining family members to not give up and keep the faith.  My heart was touched as we were given bananas, peanuts and eggs as a token of the guardian’s appreciation for helping their child.  I found it hard to take them when I saw how little they had and yet they shared it with us. But I knew these gifts were ways they could express their hearts and I needed to receive them graciously and thankfully. My heart hurt as I said goodbye to each one of my former students knowing that I may not see them again for a very long time or ever and knowing they have a hard road ahead.  One student had lost his dad several years ago and now his mother was raising the family.  This became more of a challenge just in the past few months as his older brother was killed in a motor vehicle accident and now they had the addition of caring for his wife and four little children.  In this culture this boy of only 14 was now heading the home and responsible for the welfare of all.  He had a small hut and was working hard in the garden to grow a variety of products to eat and sell.  As we were leaving it was all I could do to keep my composure as they gave us their eggs for the day.  I wanted to give them back but knew it was a gift that they wanted to give and were very honoured to give it… I had to accept it. Later that day I was able to pass those eggs on to another family in another part of the country and I felt the truth in Christ’s words, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’… in this case I can honestly say that scripture translated for me into, ‘It feels much better to give than to receive’!
Another visit was to a home of a boy whose father was murdered over a land dispute.  I knew of this incident and was thinking of it when we arrived and as we entered their living area I saw a small cross directly beside the huts marking the father’s grave. Jodie and Seth were intrigued by the small cross on the ground and not knowing what it was for were about to pull it out until I stopped them.  We had a great visit and our time ended with a look at the young man’s grinding machine that was used to make some income for the family.  Part of their land was sold to provide school fees for their third son so I knew things were difficult.  We said our goodbyes and headed for another home.

As we moved on to the remainder of the homes I felt compelled to get that machine up and running.  After a late supper I phoned our contact person and asked him if we could investigate the cost of fixing the grinder.  He said he would do it but later that night as I lay in bed I could not sleep as my mind was thinking about the many needs I had seen in just a few home visits and my many blessings in contrast.  I promised that I would do my best to go or be what God would like me to do even if it meant working in Africa again one day.  I also realized the numerous blessings my children have by having two parents who are healthy and love them like crazy.  They go to bed each night not just with a hug and a kiss but often with a snack and their heads land on a soft pillow with a bed that has a mattress and blanket.  We indeed are blessed and I wrestled with why God would allow such need to pervade a large percentage of the world. I really struggled with that. Needless to say I knew I had to let go and give all of these children along with the others at the school and the staff to the Lord.  I realized once again that when compelled it is important to help those you can but also to realize that one can’t help everyone all the time.
After leaving Arua we stopped at our house girl’s village as she is in the process of constructing a house that she will live in and begin a baking business one day.  We were excited to see the foundation coming and want to help make this a reality for our dear friend and part of the family.  As we continued our trek back home we had decided to spend a night at a lodge to break up the distance.  It was near that lodge as we were driving very slowly around a corner that I lost control of the steering.  A rod had snapped in the steering column and I had zero control.  We glided into a parked position beside the sleepy dirt road. When I got out to have a look I saw the tie rod was loose on the ground and the end that connected to the tire had broken right off.  The medal piece had split in half. It was fixed the next day and we were on our way home.  The mechanic made it clear that we were very fortunate to have it break on that sleepy road while taking a slow turn.  Both Sarah and I were stunned as we talked about what a serious accident we could have had if the rod had snapped while we were traveling at 120 kmph on the highway or even in a town full of people along the road.  Clearly God spared our lives and those of others. It reminded me that God has been looking after us and we are so thankful for His protection. We also realize that so many of you pray routinely for our health and safety and we are completely convinced your prayers have moved mountains. Praise God!

Our farewell party was made a little easier by having some of our good friends from Abbotsford join us.  Having Mark, Jeremy, Kelly and Jonathan stay at our house for about ten days was a great experience and privilege for us.  Time was spent beating some of the younger teams at the school in soccer, painting, doing home visits and visiting children in need outside of our school.  It was good to have a few more people see Africa through our eyes and fully support us in every way.  We were truly blessed to have these guys in our home. Thanks for coming guys!
It was difficult to be the main guests in our farewell but also nice to hear the appreciation from the hearts of those we love and get a front row seat for the dances, songs and tributes.  It is hard to put into words the meaning of seven years; the hard work, laughs and friendships we have developed.  After the evening was over we felt very appreciated, loved and respected for leading with integrity, high standards and honesty.  It was hard to know what to say in front of staff, students and friends but I am glad that I will be remembered for living and teaching Godly characteristics to the staff and students at the school.  Saying a final goodbye to each student was hard. And we know we will be doing the same to all our friends and staff in these next few weeks.  This is not the fun part.

We thank God for this amazing chapter in our lives and look forward to what comes next.  We still do not know what we are doing but continue to have different options popping up.  Time will be needed to unwind before we can make a clear plan in regard to our future.  Until we step on the airplane though, we want to enjoy our remaining weeks here in Uganda with friends and as a family. 
We are very much looking forward to being closer to all of you and able to join in celebrations, special events, and holidays in the future. This will be a joy to us!

We’ll zip off an email before leaving Uganda! Thank you very much for loving our family and encouraging our work here! It has made a difference!
We will update you on Seth, Jodie, and Megan next month!

Blessings from the Williams five